Chelsea vs. Arsenal: Local rivals play 2,500 miles from home

They’re two of the English Premier League’s best supported clubs, separated by less than 13 kilometers — but both Arsenal and Chelsea will have to travel over 4,000 km away from home to play the Europa League final.

Why? It’s a question many football and non-football fans were asking after the two London clubs booked their places in the May 29 final scheduled to take place in Baku, Azerbaijan.

For Arsenal and Chelsea supporters, there are so many questions, chiefly why UEFA, European football’s governing body, appears to have allocated less than 12,000 tickets to the two clubs for a match with 64,000 tickets on offer.

Throw in the cost of flights from London to Baku, the price of accommodation and the length of the journey, and it’s clear why fan groups and clubs are up in arms, not to mention the enormous carbon footprint that will be stamped all over the final.

A carbon calculator on the website of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN specialized agency, estimates that if 12,000 fans fly economy from London to Baku and back, it will generate 5,595 tonnes of CO2. That’s the equivalent of taking over 1,000 cars off the road for a year, according to the website.

UEFA selected Baku as the venue for the final back in 2017 and a long way before anyone could have predicted two of English football’s biggest teams would make the final — but that has not stopped critics from questioning the decision.

Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool coach, whose side will play Tottenham in the Champions League final in Madrid on June 1, told reporters Friday that the decision looked “irresponsible.”

“With Madrid it’s unbelievably expensive, but it’s not another part of the world at least,” Klopp said. “Going to Baku for a Europa League final is really funny, I think.

“The guys who make the decisions, I don’t know what they have for breakfast. Last year we went to Kiev, which is a wonderful city, but that a Russian team or a team from that part of the world would be involved is not really likely. Then they had to prepare.

“Now Madrid has to prepare for 200,000 English fans but it knew already that it could happen. Baku, I don’t even know how to go there or if there is any regular flight.

“These decisions, they must be much more sensible and reasonable. It looks irresponsible.”

According to European football’s governing body, UEFA’s logistical planning for the Europa League final had estimated 15,000 spectators would be able to travel from abroad.

“Offering more tickets to fans of the participating teams, without any guarantee that they would be able to arrange suitable travel to reach Baku, was therefore not a responsible option,” said UEFA in a statement sent to CNN.

“Based on these circumstances, for this year’s UEFA Europa League final in Baku, 6,000 tickets have been made available to each of the finalists. UEFA remains in close contact with the finalists regarding the travel arrangements of their supporters and any other operational aspects with regards to the final.”

Ticket troubles

As supporters of Chelsea and Arsenal began to soak up the success of their side’s achievements, the bitter reality of missing out on being able to get a ticket for the final started to dawn on them.

In a statement published on its website Thursday following its win over Valencia, Arsenal confirmed it was lobbying UEFA for extra tickets after being given a “disappointing” allocation of just 6,000.

“We are in active discussions with UEFA for more tickets for our fans but this disappointing ticket allocation obviously presents us with extreme difficulties in how we allocate tickets to you, our loyal supporters,” a statement on the Arsenal website read.

“As many of you will be aware, we are proud to have approximately 45,000 season ticket holders and over 180,000 official members.

“It is inevitable that with an allocation of just 6,000 tickets for the final, there will be thousands of fans who have supported the club for years and been part of our Europa League journey this season, who will be unable to attend this match.”

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Chelsea, meanwhile, was given even fewer tickets — a figure of 5,801 was quoted on the club’s website, though it was not immediately clear if the club would be asking for more.

According to UEFA, 37,500 tickets have been made available to football fans from across the world through a ballot on its website.

Nonetheless there are just under 14,700 tickets, which UEFA says are allocated to the local organizing committee, national associations, commercial broadcasters, “and to serve the corporate hospitality program with competitive packages.”

‘Time to stop cashing in on fan loyalty’

Criticism of UEFA’s ticketing policy is not confined to the Europa League.

Given the gross commercial revenue from the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League, the 2018/19 UEFA Europa League and the 2018 UEFA Super Cup is estimated at around $3.65 billion by European football’s governing body, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur supporters groups say it’s “time to stop cashing in on fan loyalty.”

Ticket prices for the June 1 final n the Spanish capital published on the Liverpool website range from £513 ($668) down to the cheapest of £60 ($78), though only 20% of Liverpool’s allocation includes the cheapest option.

A joint statement published by the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust and Liverpool group Spirit of Shankly, said that “supporters’ joy has been tempered by the extortionate costs of travel, accommodation and tickets — if they get a ticket at all with the measly allocation from UEFA.”

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According to the two supporter groups, prices of flights have increased by an astonishing 840%. It also says that hotel rooms in Madrid are going for more than £1,000 ($1,300) a night and that there have been examples of “room bookings being canceled and resold at vastly inflated rates.”

Labeling the ticket prices as exorbitant, the statement added: “There needs to be transparency from UEFA and both clubs in how tickets are priced and allocated.

“For many, the final is not a one-off event. It is the culmination of a season-long journey for fans, who have spent thousands of pounds already traveling to support their team, bringing the spectacle and atmosphere that is a key part of the game so prized by television. “